On Oct. 5, Stonington voters will vote on two questions, the first regarding the results of the Aug. 9 town meeting and the second question regarding allowing the sale or production of marijuana.
The Aug. 9 town meeting was to vote on approval for a fixed tax assessment for the Campbell Grain site project. The Campbell Grain site has been vacant for over a decade. The current estimated construction costs to improve the site and construct an apartment building exceeds $30 million largely due to the challenging site topography and infrastructure improvement needs. Numerous developers looked at the site and could not justify the cost of construction based on the revenue they could receive from local market-rate rental income. The approved project submitted by Winn Companies includes income-eligible units, otherwise known as affordable housing, which opens the door to approximately $20 million in grants for construction costs. The grants can be leveraged through the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority. This very competitive grant process asks for a 5% match from the local municipality. Stonington would need to come up with approximately $690,000 to match the grant. There are several options for paying for the grant and the fixed tax assessment is one of the options. A fixed tax assessment allows Stonington to “pay” the match over time, which for Stonington taxpayers is the best long-term financial option.
As a result, Stonington would receive property taxes of approximately $60,000 per year for 10 years, which is more than the $3,000 per year the site generates from the current owner. If Stonington does not commit to the match, the funds available through CHFA will go to another municipality in Connecticut. The grant will not come here.
All of the actions from Winn Companies have shown them to be a quality community partner. Starting with the July 2020 Community Conversation to introduce the proposal to the public at the Pawcatuck Fire House, followed by required comments and approvals by the Police Commission, the Architectural Design Review Board, the Water Pollution Control Authority, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Inland Wetlands Commission, the Pawcatuck Fire District, the Westerly Water Department, Stonington’s Flood Hazard consultant to verify meeting or exceeding FEMA regulations, a town engineer review and ultimately the Planning and Zoning Commission, which approved the project in October of 2020, Winn Companies has conducted themselves as a well-run organization. Their reputation of building and maintaining buildings and projects across New England is excellent and their engagement in our own community has been extensive. They have recently built a website to directly engage and address the concerns they have heard from residents. The construction of the project will improve the site, provide access to the Pawcatuck River, and fill a housing need.
The Aug. 9 town meeting to vote on the fixed tax assessment was passed by a ratio of 2 to 1. The referendum question asks if voters want to overturn the results of the town meeting.
The second question on the referendum addresses the issue of allowing a marijuana merchant or growing/processing facility in Stonington. Effective July 1, the State of Connecticut decriminalized the growing, processing, sale and recreational use of marijuana. The statute allows one retail facility and one processing facility in a town the size of Stonington. You can find details on the State of Connecticut website if you search for Senate Bill 1201. There is information regarding the pros and cons of having such an establishment in our town. Please be sure to be well-versed on the statute prior to voting on Oct. 5. The referendum question asks if voters want to forbid such businesses in Stonington.
The writer is a member of the Stonington Board of Selectmen.